Bid farewell to the fascinator. 2012 brings a whole new meaning to a day at the races.
Admittedly, I was slow off the mark when London 2012 tickets went on sale – and resale. Luckily Zest acquired a widescreen TV, dedicated to Olympic coverage, and positioned it right above our desks.
Content with my around-the-clock coverage, I was enjoying the Games; assured that spectating from the sidelines was in no way as comfortable, inexpensive or red-button enabled as my current setup.
Yet, as more and more ticket-holding friends and colleagues returned from Stratford radiating with ‘Olympic fever’, I began to feel a little left out. And then suddenly, it was all over.
To my surprise, I then learn many of the medallists are yet to hang up their Lycras and head down the pub – I commend their dedication. And so I set out to get my taste of the in-stadium action.
With demand for tickets potentially filling seats twice over and Mo Farah attempting to break a 34-year world record, I was sure the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix would provide the atmosphere and thrill I was seeking.
At first I was a little disappointed by the size of the Alexander stadium. I’d hoped my experience could compete with a day at the spectacular Olympic park. But as soon as Sally Gunnell sat down beside me and Greg Rutherford began limbering up on the track just meters away, I realised close encounters like this would fill my day at the races with golden moments of their own.
The Aviva Grand Prix is part of the IAAF Samsung Diamond League. Set up in 2009, the Diamond League is an opportunity for athletes to compete outside the Olympics and World Championships. It also enables spectators to experience the fun of live track and field at one of these 14 international race meets.
The joys of attending lower-profile athletic events like this are firstly cheering on young athletes of the future as they achieve personal bests and secondly, witnessing renowned athletes breaking stadium records.
One of my highlights was to see 19 year-old Calli Thackery dominate the under 20s 3000m race. A minute Bobby Clay made an impressive advance during the last two laps and clocked in a new personal best, but Calli had enough power left to push on and take the top spot.
The crowd of the 13,000-capacity stadium got behind every athlete. There were loud roars of encouragement as female triple jumpers, javelin throwers and pole-vaulters kept people entertained in unison.
Fresh from the closing ceremony, 45 Olympic medallists turned up to compete. And for them, anything can happen – heightening the crowd’s anticipation.
Team GB’s Perri Shakes-Drayton, who missed out on a spot in the Olympic 400m hurdles final by just one place, claimed victory by defeating Olympic champion Natalya Antyukh and Olympic bronze-medallist Zuzana Hejnova.
Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz took victory in his Birmingham home ground, beating Olympic champion Ivan Ukhaov of Russia.
The climax of the day was Mo Farah’s plight to break the two-mile world record, which has been standing since 1978. It was clear by the halfway mark that the record wouldn’t be broken that day. However, the crowd clearly couldn’t care less as they cheered on a new national treasure.
Our GB medallists Mo Farah, Christine Ohuruogu, Greg Rutherford and Robbie Grabarz ended the day with a celebratory lap of honor and spend time signing autographs and meeting fans. The foursome stuck around for a Q and A session and Mo was then mobbed by children and parents, all astonished by their close encounter with the hero.
I managed to bag a handshake and a hug from Greg Rutherford and snapped a souvenir picture before heading off to collapse with excitement and exhaustion. I'm now buzzing with 'Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix Fever'. It was a day out I'll always remember. Next time a friend suggests an afternoon at ladies day – I’m out.
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